Written by
Bob Stumpel

May 19

A Great Day In San Francisco – Ray & Rea @ The Fillmore West, Unabridged (1971)

'71 LC SpiritWith Aretha FranklinWith Billy PrestonWith King CurtisWith Ray Charles

King Curtis, Aretha, Ray, Billy.

This video – in my perception truly the Holy Grail in the History of Soul Music – suddenly popped up in my inbox yesterday. This morning I was informed* that, since a few months, it can also be watched online. (I keep on wondering how some uploads, although they are properly titled, can be so hard to track down on Youtube).
It’s the unabridged in-house video of Ray’s surprise guest appearance at Aretha Franklin’s concert at the Fillmore West, on March 7, 1971 (the only footage missing from this copy is the last 3 feet of Ray’s walk-off at the end; there’s also a split second black out at 15:20, probably because of a tape change).

The 2005 4-CD re-release.

I wrote earlier articles about the live album, the discovery of the unabridged audio recording, and the discovery of the second part of this same video.

For me the biggest surprise while watching the (first part of the) video footage that’s new to me, is in the fact that The Genius delivered it standing up, holding a microphone – I don’t know of any other instance at a live concert where he did that, before or after ’71.

Photo by Jim Marshall.

In a 1971 interview Ray declared, “That live recording by Aretha Franklin that I joined in on recently? It was a true accident. I just happened to be in a club in San Francisco, and somebody said to me: ‘Hey, Ray, Aretha’s working at Basin Street West’ or wherever it was, and I said: ‘I didn’t know that. So why don’t we go by and catch her?’ So we all went by, and I was sitting out there. Evidently somebody told her, and before I knew it she’d left the stage and come up and snatched me. I mean, I can’t argue with a woman – it’s very difficult for me! She said: ‘Come on up and do something’. but I didn’t know what to do. I’m sure, if you listen to the song we did, the Spirit In The Dark, you could tell I don’t even know the thing. I’d heard her sing it, but I think when Aretha sings something, after that everybody else should forget about it. You know nothing else can be done to it. So I didn’t know it, but I figured: okay, since I’m here we might as well fake it the best we can. And the thing wound up selling over a million records.”

King Curtis (ts, band leader) and The Kingpins (Bernard Purdie – d; Cornell Dupree -g; Jerry Jemmott – b; Truman Thomas – ep [he stepped back when Ray came on stage]; Pancho Morales – congas; the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson, Roger Hobbs – tp; Jack Hale – tb; Lou Collins, Andrew Love – ts; Jimmy Mitchell – bs), The Sweethearts Of Soul (Brenda Bryant, Margaret Branch, Pat Smith) – backing vocals; special guest Billy Preston – Hammond organ.

Some things more about the recording (circumstances) from Mitch Meyers’ liner notes:

“How do you top that? Trust Aretha to receive some divine intervention on the road to pop’s promised land. ‘I discovered Ray Charles!’ she exclaims. In a spontaneous moment, Aretha brought gospel-soul icon Ray Charles onstage for a reprise of Spirit In The Dark. Their ecstatic duet is surely a moment to remember but according to Jerry Wexler, the two golden voices were surrounded by chaos when they came together on the bandstand. ‘Yeah, that was an accident,’ Wexler remembers. ‘Nobody knew Ray Charles was there and when he came out onstage it was one big ball of confusion. They started to vamp on the Spirit In The Dark and couldn’t get it together. Finally it had a semblance of agreement, but it was an unplanned mess and we had to do some very careful editing.’

Ray, Aretha.
Billy, Aretha, Ray.

Brother Ray’s singing and electric piano playing lends something extra to the live record, but his special appearance barely made it onto the finished product. ‘Because Ray remembered the difficulties [onstage] I had a very difficult job getting his okay to release the record with his voice on it,” says Wexler. ‘It took a lot of persuasion and argument, and Ray Charles is not amenable to persuasion once he makes up his mind. So that was a difficult part.’ […]

Jerry Wexler felt there was one more noteworthy thing regarding the making of this record: […] ‘In live gigs, the horns and the background voices almost always sound out of tune, but they’re not. That’s because certain voices in the group and certain voices in the horns are too prominent and you can’t change it on a live broadcast. So we redid the horns and the voices in the studio using the same people. That what’s important, all they did was replicate their parts. We laid it over and it came out perfectly, there were no intonation problems but the trick was to use the Memphis Horns and the Sweethearts of Soul. So we called them back in, that’s why it came out as good as it did.'”

Here’s the integral concert:

* A special thank you to Hector Tarín.


Anonymous — 2012-05-20 08:40:47

Superbe journée, superbe concert. Je vous recommande le coffret ARETHA FRANKLIN AND KING CURTIS AT FILLMORE WEST -4CDS- André

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